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The North Pennines (AONB) – a special place to visit!

A special place to visit!

The North Pennines is one of England’s most special places – a stunning, upland landscape of wide-open moors, flower-rich hay meadows, intimate woods, inky-black night skies, charismatic wildlife, fascinating industrial heritage, tumbling rivers and dramatic waterfalls.

Here you will find a peaceful, unspoilt landscape with a rich history and vibrant natural beauty, and at almost 2,000 sq. km it is the second largest of the 46 AONBs (in England, Wales and Northern Ireland). It is surely one of the most peaceful and unspoilt places in England.

Beneath your feet

In recognition of its world class Earth heritage and efforts to make the most of this for tourism and education, it is also designated as a UNESCO Global Geopark. The impressive landscape of the North Pennines – from High Force on the River Tees to the sweeping valley of High Cup Gill above Dufton – are the product of millions of years of geological processes.

Rocks are the building blocks of the wonderful North Pennine landscape. The area’s fells and dales, and the rocks, minerals and fossils of which they are made, tell a fascinating story – one which stretches back hundreds of millions of years. The geological story of the North Pennines tells a story of deep oceans and violent volcanoes, colliding continents and molten rock, tropical seas and lush rainforests, hot water and minerals, desert dunes and vast ice sheets.

Over the past 500 million years the North Pennines has travelled over the surface of the globe and been shaped by many environments and processes. Volcanoes, tropical seas, rainforests, molten rock, deserts and ice sheets have all helped create today’s landscape. By exploring the fells and dales, you’ll discover the North Pennines’ remarkable journey through time, and a rich industrial heritage linked to the area’s rocks and minerals.

Jewel of the North

The area is famous for its distinctive landscape of high moorland, peat bog, and broad, dramatic, dales – including the upland stretches of the Tees, Wear and Tyne rivers. It shares a boundary with the Yorkshire Dales National Park in the south and extends as far as the Tyne Valley, just south of Hadrian’s Wall, in the north. Parts of the area are in the counties of Durham, Cumbria and Northumberland.

Tumbling waterfalls, sweeping moorland views, dramatic dales, stone-built villages, snaking stone walls and friendly faces – are what visitors to the North Pennines AONB and UNESCO Global Geopark can expect to find.

People and places

The character of the North Pennines landscape is inseparable from the people and places found here. The differing nature of settlements, from the distinctive red sandstone villages at the foot of the North Pennines escarpment to the white farms and barns of the Raby Estate in Teesdale, has a significant impact on landscape character.

Past times

About 12,000 people live in the North Pennines today – less than half the number who lived here 150 years ago in the heyday of the lead mining industry. The rise and fall of mining has left an indelible imprint on the landscape, not just in terms of the physical remains but also in the pattern of local settlement. The social history of the miner-farmers is also an intriguing element that contributes to the story of the North Pennines.

Nature galore

The North Pennines is a hotspot for nature – famous for the variety and profusion of plants and animals which find a home here. Eighty percent of the area benefits from nature-friendly, traditional farming practices, which means that the AONB is a haven for wildlife.

Sparkling night skies

The North Pennines is officially the darkest mainland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). Here we have some of England’s darkest night skies. The area’s inky black skies mean that jaw-dropping stargazing opportunities are aplenty, on a clear night – with the opportunity to see thousands of stars overhead compared to the handful you would see from towns and cities. See our home galaxy, the Milky Way, in all its shimmering glory, along with distant galaxies and sparkling star clusters. You will find lots of officially designated Dark Sky Discovery Sites too – so come over to the ‘dark side’ and enjoy our stunning skies.

Alston and the Cumbrian North Pennines

The countryside around Alston, England’s highest market town, provides some of the area’s finest walking country – including the lofty Cross Fell – the highest English hill outside the Lake District. The striking North Pennines escarpment is a dramatic backdrop to the attractive, red sandstone-built, fell foot villages.

Kirkby Stephen in the south of the area is a traditional, bustling market town full of historic buildings and cobbled yards – a good launch pad for climbing Nine Standards Rigg.

In the North Pennines you’ll find:

  • Peace, tranquillity and space to catch your breath
  • England biggest waterfall – High Force in Upper Teesdale
  • Almost 40% of the UK’s flower-filled upland hay meadows
  • Inky-black night skies – some of the darkest in England. The North Pennines is the darkest mainland Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty
  • 80% of England’s black grouse
  • Short-eared owls, ring ouzel, snipe and redshank
  • 22,000 pairs of breeding wading birds in the spring and early summer
  • Red squirrels, otters and rare arctic-alpine plants